An Awful Gun - A New Zealand Yarn

This wonderful tale was published in the Otago Witness, 18th October 1873. It's lengthy but well worth the read. The line that got me was ".........he tomahawked the man who helped to cook my father's head". The original page is shown below but I've transcribed the full text further down for easier reading.


(Bristol Mirror.)

"What a wonderful gun this is," said a Maori chief, to whom I was endeavouring to explain the mechanism of a Snider carbine. "Instead of loading it at the mouth, it is loaded at the tail. It requires no ramrod, and I don't see where the fire comes from, unless it is in this little thing with the copper bottom (alluding to the Boxer cartridge). I remember the time I thought there was no gun on the coast like mine. Ah, that was a good gun. It was a tupara (double-barrel). I killed many men with it. The last time I used it was when I shot Simon Peter. He was only a common fellow, and he had no right to steal my pigs, but he is not dead. The gun was only loaded for pigeons, and the charge hit him in the fleshy part of the back. He made me laugh that day, He used bad language, and danced about, and made funny faces. He ran away to cool the wounded part by sitting in the creek. Had he not done so, I would have fired the other barrel at him, in hopes that there might have been more fun. I am very glad now that I did not kill Simon Peter, for when he recovered, he came and told me that he was sorry for having killed my pigs, and in a fight we had soon after, he tomahawked the man who helped to cook my father's head."

My venerable friend here paused while he carefully examined the breech-loader I had handed him for inspection. "How much would this cost?" said he. I told him its probable price. "Ah, my gun cost thirty pounds in Auckland, and then it was not new. I once lent it to a surveyor. He told me he was a great chief in Ireland - that land where there are Hau Haus, who are always making mischief, just like Te Kooti and Tito Kowaru, except that I believe they do not eat human flesh. This chief from Ireland borrowed my gun. I could see him from this hill as he walked through the swamp. He must have killed fifty birds or more. Every time he fired, a duck, a teal, or widgeon fell. When he came back he showed me the name of the maker on the gun! it was Purdee, London. I have since heard that 'Purdee' is a great chief among the makers of guns. After this the surveyor bought my gun. I wanted money then, and I let him have it. He told me he would pay me in a few months, when the rents from his lands in Ireland came in. It is now more than a year ago, and I have not seen the gun, the money, or the Irish chief since, but I suppose he has not yet received the money from the people on his land."

The old gentleman again closely examined the weapon, and after numerous expressions of approval and wonder, he asked me if I ever heard of the awful gun that killed Saucepan (Hospine). On informing that up to that time I was unaware of the melancholy circumstances attending the death of the late lamented Mr Saucepan, he proceeded nearly as follows :-

It is many years ago, I was quite a young man then; Saucepan was a rangatira, although not as great a chief as I am. He was much respected by the tribe. He proved himself a great warrior when, the Ngapuhi invaded our land, and some of their best men fell by his hand. Poor Saucepan. A woman was the cause of his death. His wife was the handsomest woman in the whole tribe, and although her husband loved her very much she cared nothing for him. Indeed it was generally believed that she was much too friendly with Samati [Tamati ?] who also belonged to the tribe, but lived in a pah some distance from our settlement. One day we all started on an eel-fishing expedition. As we were leaving in our canoes Maria, Saucepan's wife, pretended to be taken ill. Saucepan was very sorry, for he believed she was really suffering, and would have remained with her, but she said she would soon recover, and at length prevailed upon him to leave her and go with us. We had a good night's fishing, and when we paddled from the swamps in the morning we thought of the fat eels the women would cook for us when we reached our whares (houses). But we ceased to think of the eels when we landed. An old woman that had been left behind told us that Saucepan's wife had left the village with Samati, who came with two other men to take her. "She is bad, bad," said the old woman, "for if she wished to remain with us she would not have jumped on Samati's horse and held on to him when they rode away." Saucepan on hearing this nearly went mad. He seized the old woman by the throat, and had we not interfered I believe he would have killed her. He told her she ought to have stopped his wife, and if she was not a friend of Samati's she would have detained Maria until his return. This was wrong, for what could one old woman do against three strong men. She satisfied herself by abusing them, and let the false one go with a curse. Saucepan was very angry all that night and kept us awake by his loud and excited talking. We did not interrupt him, for we knew his heart was dark. He had been betrayed by Samati, in whom he trusted, and by his wife, who he believed to be pure as the snow on Tangario. Poor Saucepan, he was a fool. When he finished his excited talk he drank rum until he got very drunk, and I believe he would have killed himself drinking had he money enough to buy liquor. As is the custom with the Maori, we organised a strong taua to seek satisfaction and demand payment from Samati, for the insult to Saucepan and our hapu. Money, pigs, horses, and clothes were given us, but so great was Saucepan's love for his wife that he looked upon all these things as dirt, and at last in his anger he told Samati that he was only food for dogs. This remark is considered one of the greatest insults that can be offered to a chief. So Samati seized a stake from the fence and before Saucepan could lay hold of anything to defend himself, he was knocked senseless by his enemy. We carried him home, and great was our grief for his disgrace. Poor Saucepan wept very much next day. Some of the people said he had been drinking. When his weeping was over he came to my whare, and told me he would kill Samati, and those who had assisted in the abduction of Maria. I told him he might do as he liked, but I would have no more to say to the squabble. However, I changed my mind soon after. Samaii and I quarrelled about land, and he had the best of it, so I made up my mind to shoot him when I had a favourable opportunity. Then I remembered Saucepan's hatred towards my enemy, and I determined to quietly assist my friend to cany out his threat. Shall I not do right, I thought. I help to wipe away an insult to our tribe, and revenge an injury to myself. At the same time I can keep in the background, and if anyone gets into trouble it will be Saucepan. I went to seek Saucepan, but found that he had gone to a whaling station, thirty miles down the coast. He returned in about a week, and hearing of my dispute with Samati, he explained his designs to me. "You know Old Dan, the whaler," he said. I told him I did. "Well, I have bought his gun, and a rum bottle full of very strong gunpowder. Old Dan told me it was the strongest powder the white people make. Each grain is as large as a pebble, and shines brightly. (I have since found, out that it was what the Pakehas use for bursting stones.) I gave four good horses for the gun, and two pigs for the bottle of gunpowder." Saucepan then showed me the gun. Such a gun I never saw before, and I have never seen since. It had a muzzle the same shape, and nearly as wide, as the bell we now ring for prayers. The barrel was short and made of brass. It also had a bayonet, which sprung out when you touched a spring near the trigger. Saucepan then took his bottle of gunpowder, a great many bullets, some pieces of old chain, and a bundle of rags. I watched with interest the manner in which he loaded that awful gun. He first blew down the muzzle to see that the touch-hole was clear. Then he drew the cork from the bottle, and poured nearly all the powder into the gun. Next, he took a bundle of rags and rammed them down on the powder with a big stick. He then put in a pannikin full of bullets, and when he had stamped the butt on the ground until the bullets were evenly packed in the bore, he added some chain. After this he broke up the bottle, and when he had taken some well fitting pieces of glass, he put them in too, and filled up the chinks with fine shingle from the beach ; he at last finished by ramming in more nigs until you could see them bulging out at the muzzle. "Saucepan," I mildly remonstrated, "have you not put too much powder in that gun, and have you not fed him with too many chains and bullets and things?" "No," replied Saucepan, "Old Dan the Whaler told me that I might put as much as I liked into him, and that he was called a 'blunderbus,' and was as strong as the big guns the Pakehas fight with - guns that horses drag about on wheels. I told him I believed Old Dan to be a very clever Pakeha who knew a good deal about guns, but at the same time I requested that he (Saucepan) would give me timely warning before the meditated discharging this gun with the large appetite.

He shook hands with me, with tears in his eyes promised to grant my request; and, having borrowed some tobacco from me, described how he intended using his awful gun against Samati and his accomplices. "I know that Samati and the two men who helped him to carry off Maria, live in the same whare. They eat every morning from the same mat, and when they are having breakfast tomorrow, I intend to kill them all with my cross-gun." I could not speak for some time, I was so lost in admiration of Saucepan's plan, I thought he was foolish before, but I suppose it was the desire for revenge made him so cunning. He asked me to go with him; I refused, as I said two might be discovered but one remain unseen. But the truth of it was that 1 thought I had done quite enough in the matter, and that I would leave the rest to Saucepan. I had scarcely covered myself up in my blanket that night, when a desire seized me to witness how Saucepan acted with his blunderbus. I crept from the village without being seen, and before daybreak was concealed in the fern on a hill overlooking Samati's pah. Anxiously I looked for daylight and the avenging Saucepan. Soon the light came, and sure enough I saw my friend, who had taken up his position close to the palisades in a spot commanding the entrance to Samati's house. The women were moving about the pah preparing breakfast; lighting the fires, heating the stones to cook the potatoes, kumeras, and fish. At length all was ready. The women put the meals on small flax mats in front of each whare, and called to the occupants to "come to the food." Again I looked at Saucepan. There he was, with his blunderbus poked through the palisades and hidden from the inhabitants by the ti tree and scrub growing outside. Soon Samati and his two friends came out in obedience to the call of Maria. They sat down around the mat containing their breakfast, and as they stooped to eat, their heads were close together, and not three yards from Saucepan. "Now Saucepan, now is your time. Remember the treachery of your friend. Remember the insult to your tribe. Remember the stain on your good name." For a second the rising sun flashed on the brass barrel appearing through the fence. Then I saw a cloud of dense white smoke, and heard a roaring noise that boomed along the plains and echoed back from the surrounding hills. Something whizzed past me, but I do not know whether it was part of Saucepan or part of his gun, I did not think of the danger to myself, but ran down to the pah to see the result of the explosion.

On entering it, I saw the almost headless trunks of Samati and his friends lying where they had been eating. Some of them clenched in their hands pieces of food they were in the act of passing to their mouths. Maria was weeping and wringing her hands, but I did not pity her. I went outside to seek Saucepan. I found him lying in different directions about the place. After obtaining the assistance of some children from the pah, I succeeded in picking up several basketfuls of my poor friend, which I brought back to our settlement. We had a grand crying match over the remains, and many pigs were killed and eaten, and many bottles of rum were drunk. As for the blunderbus, it has never been seen since. It may have been blown to small pieces, or it may be passing through the air yet. Sometimes, on the mild summer nights, when all is still, a rushing noise is heard, and a wind is felt passing over the pah. Some say it is a whirlwind; but the old men say it is caused by the awful gun that killed Saucepan, as it still whizzes through space, and that it will continue to whiz as long as there is a whiz left in it.

So saying, the old gentleman calmly smoked his pipe in silence for some minutes, and as he watched the smoke curl slowly upwards, his thoughts evidently flew back to the days of Saucepan and his awful gun. I left him in his reverie, and as I strolled home to my tent, I came to the conclusion that old Dan the Whaler was not accustomed to the use of firearms, and that he never could have gone through a course of instruction at the Hythe or Fleetwood or any other School of Musketry of the period.

Young Colonist.


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